Author Archives: fictorians

Brick Cave Media, the Challenge and Fun of a Small Press

A guest post by Robert Nelson

Brick Cave Media is a small publisher based in Mesa, AZ. One does not normally think of Mesa Arizona being hub for small publishing, but Brick Cave Media traces it’s roots back 23 years to the arrival of founder Bob Nelson and the start of a literary magazine called Anthology.

Today, Brick Cave Media represents 9 different authors across 2 states, with over 50 titles in publication.

While we function mostly as a publisher in the traditional sense, we benefit from having a small, agile team that can change direction quickly as needed. We have a passionate staff of 4 that wears all the hats of a full business, and a halo of editors, artists and others that support the Press’ efforts.

As a small press, our authors interact with each other, which we encourage, because we want them to be a source of encouragement and to share the opportunities that an indie author may not have alone. As a Press, we work to offer opportunities of scale, representation at events that indies may find daunting or financially challenging on their own and access to distribution opportunities that we can focus on while the author can continue to focus on writing.

A small press, the RIGHT small Press, can be a great vehicle for an author. We at Brick Cave tell every prospective author that there is nothing we do that you cannot do yourself, if you choose in invest the time and resources. That is not playing down us or any other small press, that’s an acknowledgement of the realities of what the last 25 years have done for the industry. Choose a small press based on what you want them to do for you, not for what you think you cannot do.

Brick Cave became a publisher through an interesting story. The business itself was founded in 2006 as a spoken word audio label, producing spoken word albums, and taking advantage of the MP3 revolution that occurred at the turn of the century. In 2008, the business added film company to it’s roster, as the company produced the feature film Sacrifice (available on Amazon).

In 2009, Author J.A. Giunta approached Brick Cave CEO Bob Nelson about publishing his fantasy novels. The two had worked together previously on Anthology literary magazine in 1994-1996. Because the Amazon Kindle platform had just debuted and there was a curiosity about how they could leverage the platform, Nelson agreed to publish Giunta and a deal was struck. In 2010, the Press added Sharon Skinner, and in 2011, started printing paperback editions of their books. In 2010, Brick Cave started making public appearances at local conventions (originally to promote Sacrifice, but eventually the books took over) and from there the business grew. In 2016, book sales accounted for 85% of Brick Cave’s annual revenue, and Brick Cave makes 12-15 appearances each year promoting new titles.

Originally, Brick Cave, because of it’s connections to the poetry non profit Anthology, was heavily poetry focused. To this day, Brick Cave maintains a strong roster of poets and release 1-2 titles a year. With the addition of J.A. Giunta and later Sharon Skinner and others, the Press expanded to include traditional fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

The future is bright for us. We have worked hard to, in a sense, grow up a little as a business, and put ourselves in a position to handle more books, and more authors. We are looking for smart, determined and creative authors that want to be a part of a larger story. We are working to build brand, so we are recognized well beyond our traditional borders. We are looking to get our titles in more places, our authors in more signings, and increase our profile.

As an author, if you are looking to use a small press, start with and examination of yourself, and make an honest list of the things you would like to keep control of and the things you would be willing to let someone else handle for you. Then profile the small presses that match you and your writing style, talk to strength in areas you want them to handle, and look like they would meet your expectations. Buy a book from them and read it. Reach out to them and ask for submission advice. Follow their guidelines. Be the model submitter that they can point out to others.

Also, understand that the majority of small presses are generally overworked, organizationally stressed, and financially limited. Keep your expectations in line with reality. If you start the relationship right, by researching and finding the best match for your style and your work, a small press can be a very powerful partner in a writer’s career.

Learn more about Brick Cave at https://brickcavemedia.com

The Call of the Small Publisher

Beware! All small publishers aren’t created equal, and most of them will do absolutely nothing for you except waste your time and tie up your rights.

First of all, there was a time when a small publisher could really help a writer. But this was before the Internet and before services widely used by small publishers weren’t readily available to writers.

Nowadays all services that are available to small publishers are available to writers in one form or another, everything from editing to interior and cover design to printing to promotion to distribution. As a writer, you can become the publisher. You don’t have to rely on someone else to control your writing destiny.

Now, if you talk to enough people you will hear plenty of positive and negative stories about small publishers, and this includes print and e-publishers.

I have been with three small publishers over the last fifteen years. I needed the first small publisher because it was when the Internet was still in its infantile stage, and self-publishing had so many negative connotations.

Back then, subsidy publishers were rip-off traps that raped writers young and old. They charged outrageous prices for their services and offered little help after they finished printing your book. You were left to swim or drown. Most writers drowned, never recouping their initial investment. Many of these companies are still in business in one form or another.

My first publisher represented a dozen or so writers and helped when they could, but they had a limited budget. Most of the footwork and promotion was up to me. I understood my part and did what I could to promote my book. Things were going along slowly, but smoothly. Then, the publisher ended up biting the dust, and that was it. I was back to square one.

My second publisher was someone I respected greatly. He had been in the business for a long time, and had connections with a lot of different people in the industry. But publishing is a grind. It burns out those with the best intentions. He ended up giving all his authors back their rights and closed shop. To his credit, he helped me a lot with my writing and was the first person to suggest I start my own publishing company. The company would publish one author—me. I should have taken his advice.

Unfortunately, I was offered a three year deal from a larger small publisher, one that represented several hundred authors in one form or another. They gave me a small advance that was used for a three minute video to promote the book. When I signed the contract I knew they were a lot different from my previous two publishers. Their contract was much longer, and contained clauses that would make it difficult to leave if I wanted to sever my relationship early.

Things started off well. They were polite and attentive, answering all my questions. But in the back of my mind there were things I didn’t like about them. I almost didn’t sign with them, and looking back at it I should have followed my gut and passed on their offer.

First of all, their acquisition editor confused me with another author. That was the first warning. Then, they didn’t care what size the book was or what was on the front cover. They were like ‘that’s up to you.’ Then came the price they would charge for the book, and my discount rate. I thought both were too high for an unknown author.

Lastly came the advice they gave me for any future books. They suggested that I make them a certain length so they would be easier to package. After a few months, I realized I was going to make zilch from this deal unless I really busted my butt. They were going to make money no matter what happened.

That’s when it hit me! Why bust my butt for a small percentage when I can bust my butt and reap the lion’s share.

Now I have to admit that I had no idea about cover design, interior design, blurbs, price points, discounts, promotional pieces, giveaways, reviews, ISBNs, and a bunch of other information that my publisher knew.

But you know what? All that information is readily available on the internet. There are many good people out there who are willing to help you. Of course, you have to beware of the many sharks too, but it is like any business. There will always be good with the bad.

Next, look at the life expectancy of many small publishers, both traditional and on-line. Notice how many of them are out of business after a short while. A lot of them! They will never have the passion that you have for your work. no matter what they say. Many of them are like a lot of agents—they will suck your blood dry, and then when there is nothing left, they’ll move onto the next victim. I mean writer.

If you can start your own publishing company this is the best time to do it. There is a ton of information out there. If you’re still a little nervous about taking the plunge, team up with another writer. You can share the cost, the hours, the ups and downs.

But remember, it’s a business and you should treat it like a business. The more you put into it, the better chance you will get something positive out of it. But be realistic. Most likely, you will never get rich. You probably won’t even make a living or you will make a marginal living.

As writers, we all want to make money, but if you’re in the business just for the cash, do something else. You can make a lot more money in other lines of work.

Lastly, I want to give two references that everyone should read if they even have an inkling of becoming a publisher or if they just want to become a better writer.

One of these people I know well, and I consider him a friend. He’s smart and at times inspirational. The other is someone that I don’t know. But the guy is friggin’ brilliant. Every article I read from him gives me hope and makes me want to write and publish.

The first gentlemen is Harvey Stanbrough. You can find him at HarveyStanbrough.com. The second gentlemen is Dean Wesley Smith. You can find him at deanwesleysmith.com.

Guest Bio:
Glen M Glenn is an entrepreneur and a fiction writer. His books Last of the Firstborn, Dark Ritual and Sheepland will be coming out later this year. You can check his website out at glenmglenn.com.

 

Bundoran Press – On Distribution and Print vs E-book Sales

In this article, Hayden Trenholm, publisher of Bundoran Press, Canadian Publisher of Science Fiction, shares his personal journey in the book business. Whether publishing with small or large press or self-publishing, distribution is always a concern and Hayden candidly shares his experiences. Print or ebook sales, which is more lucrative? Hayden’s comments may surprise or depress you. Ace Jordyn

Personal Journeys in the Book Business by Hayden Trenholm

Selling books is hard; selling anything is hard but books are harder because it is the only product that stores can return for a full refund (or credit – though that only applies to big publishers). This practice started in the 1930s when publishers were looking for a way to kick start book sales after the war. The mass market paperback was relatively new and was designed to be printed cheap and distributed widely. To encourage book sellers – a notoriously conservative lot – to take the risk, the books could be returned for a credit against future sales.

This worked pretty well for publishers, who in those days mostly distributed their own books. They didn’t actually have to give money back – they simply took a loss in the future, which as any economist will tell you, is a discounted loss.

It doesn’t quite work that way anymore. As the world became more complex, sales processes became more specialized. Publishers outsourced their warehouses to distribution companies. Gradually those distribution companies developed their own salesforces (on top of the marketing departments of big publishers) and took over marketing for medium and small publishers.

And of course they took their cut of the sales – which would be okay if they also didn’t charge fees for every transaction they undertake. There is a fee when they send the book to the store and another larger fee for when it comes back. And if the books stop moving, they charge you a fee for storing them and a different fee to dispose of them or return them.

Generally you are told you should budget 30% for returns, though the distributor assures you they will do everything possible to keep it below that. But what if they sell your books to the wrong stores – such as stores that don’t sell a lot of science fiction, or stores who won’t keep new or relatively unknown books on their shelves for more than a few weeks? Returns can quickly rise above 30% and, with all the associated fees, it is possible to actually lose money through distribution.

Which is what happened.

I could see that it was coming and I have thought of an alternative – two, in fact. One would be to find a new distributor. There are several out there but getting them to take you on is not as simple as asking. You need to have a certain size back catalog, you need to publish a minimum number of titles each year, you need a certain size print run.

Requirements vary, of course, but obviously, the bigger the distributor (access to more stores, larger sales force, and so on), the stiffer the entry requirements. And returns are still a problem. Still, I’m looking into the possibilities.

Not all distribution companies are created equally and some are as hard to work with for storeowners as they are for publishers. Complex accounting processes and inefficient shipping practices can lead stores to refuse to work with certain distribution companies.

I’ve talked to a few book sellers about the problem and they either suggested a smaller, but reliable, mostly Canadian firm (there are several) or to do self-distribution. If authors can self-publish, why can’t publishers self-distribute?

So, for at least the interim, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve created a catalog that includes all the backlist (and announces the titles of upcoming publications) and I’ve started sending it out.

My first experience was a good one. Last August at When Words Collide (which was a great success – we won an Aurora Award and had a successful triple book launch), I approached a couple of regular book sellers with the catalog. One took the catalog and the other took some books. So while supplies last, Calgary readers can buy Bundoran Books from the Sentry Box. Since then, the Yellowknife Book Cellar in the Northwest Territories and Pat Flewelling’s traveling bookstore, MythHawker have bought into the system. Negotiations continue with several other bookstores.

The secret – deep discounts for the book sellers (more than the traditional 40%) and no returns for the publisher. Even with shipping costs I expect to make more money than I did with my big American distributor. And I certainly won’t lose money. Obviously this approach is unlikely to work with the big chain bookstores and it definitely won’t work on Amazon – but it might actually result in more books sold which will be good for both me and for the authors I publish.

E-books

Like most traditional publishers, I publish e-books of all the books I also publish by print. I’ve even published one stand-alone novella. Some have sold okay – mostly when both I and the author independently promote them – but none have been spectacular. One exception is my anthology, Blood and Water, which sold a lot of copies by being included in a book bundle with nine other Aurora-winning or nominated books. Recently, another of Bundoran Press’ books, Children of Arkadia by M.Darusha Wehm, did very well in another book bundle, this one sponsored by SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). With two more book bundles in the works this year, change may be in the air.

Which is a good thing. I’ve done all the usual things to promote e-book (and print sales): Twitter, Facebook, (including ads), Goodreads, blogs, manipulating the Amazon algorithm, but the results have up to now been so-so. A few months ago, I signed up with an ebook distribution to spread our market beyond Amazon and KOBO. Initial results look good – a doubling or tripling of our monthly sales – but time will tell if that is sustainable.

But it will have to be flashy to match what happened with Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, which in its first two weeks sold more units than all the other titles (except for the aforementioned Blood and Water) sold in the previous six months. It’s not like it has become a best seller in its category (Space Opera) – although apparently that doesn’t mean what you might think anyway– but it has continued to tick along very nicely and is still outselling every other title – which bodes well for the sequel that is coming out in August. Neither Brent nor I are likely to get rich – but you never know. Maybe a year from now, we’ll be referring to Brent as the new Hugh Howie. And I’ll have sold my company to Random House.

Speaking of e-books, the debate continues to rage over which is doing better – e-books or print books. Some would have you believe that  e-books are in decline and print books are on the rise and sales figures would suggest they are right. Total e-book sales have fallen since 2013, while print books have shown a modest but steady increase.

Others would point out that e-book weakness is largely because there wasn’t a breakout YA novel in 2014 or 2015 – which shows how a single author like J.K.Rowling can move the market more than 10,000 other lesser selling authors. Pricing may also be a factor with traditional publishers raising e-book prices while the growing number of indie publishers have kept prices low. Still, the decline in sales of dedicated e-book readers like Kindle must be an area of concern.

And at the same time, the rise in print sales is almost entirely due to the recent fad of adult colouring books. That’s right. Colouring books. Maybe I need to produce a book of colour-it-yourself space ships and alien landscapes.

My own view is that – publishing is a tough business and few people are going to make a decent living at it. Most people who make a living as a writer start out being supported by family, friends, spouses, and lousy part-time jobs. Or if they live in a country that values the arts – by public arts granting agencies. For Canadians, things recently got a little better – but it’s still a rough go. Here are the median individual incomes in Canada. If you are doing better than that as a writer – count yourself lucky.

Still, we persevere – both as writers and as publishers. After all what else can we do?

Yeah, I know get a haircut and get a real job

Hayden Trenholm is an award-winning playwright, novelist and short story writer. His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies and on CBC radio. His first novel, A Circle of Birds, won the 3-Day Novel Writing competition in 1993; it was recently translated and published in French. His trilogy, The Steele Chronicles, were each nominated for an Aurora Award. Stealing Home, the third book, was a finalist for the Sunburst Award. Hayden has won four Aurora Awards – twice for short fiction and twice for editing anthologies. He purchased Bundoran Press in 2012 and is its managing editor. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and fellow writer, Elizabeth Westbrook-Trenholm.

 

 

Free Reign

A guest post by Tonya L. De Marco

Do I keep a depraved soul locked in my subconscious, caged unable to act on her desires? Is there a past-life sister sharing her memories with me, breathing life into my characters and infusing them with her ideals of right and wrong? Is it just good old-fashioned curiosity about what makes such characters tick? Do I admire their freedom, their lack of concern for the moral and ethical shackles that bind most of mankind?

I try not to delve too deeply within myself seeking the answers. It’s likely I have a sympathetic personality or a very open mind that allows these characters to speak to me. I give them free reign through my writing. My voice is their voice.

My stories are dark, often with twisted characters and an erotic flavor. No subject is taboo. Incest, rape, murder, cannibalism, mental illness, sacrilege, and acts against children can all be found in my published work or my work in progress. These atrocities occur in the world, I see no reason not to include them in fiction. These are the stories that need to be heard. They are the tales I’m meant to tell.

Traveling through Wyoming on a return trip home from a convention, I encountered a new character and found inspiration. Now known as the Wyoming Frontier Prison Museum, we stopped in Rawlings to take a tour of what served as the territorial prison from 1901-1981. The imposing stone facade and high wall surrounding the yard were daunting, but it’s what transpired inside the fortress that still haunts me.

Stepping into cell block A, the oldest part of the prison, was an immediate shock. A chill permeated my body seeping into the very core of my bones. I wanted to weep, cry out, and run all at the same time but something held me immobile. The silent screaming of the tortured souls of the past invaded my mind and my being. I was overwhelmed with emotion flooding in all at once; hopelessness, fear, anguish, depression. I felt smothered, suffocated, controlled. The feeling of oppression was a palpable weight on my shoulders. It was as if I was being buried alive.

Collecting myself enough to follow along with the tour, the sense of straddling a line between the different times hung with me. As the guide recounted stories of some of the prison’s infamous inmates, their images played out before me as if etched on a veil hanging over my eyes. The prisoners endured remarkably deplorable and harsh conditions – cramped quarters, no heat, constant threat of violence, a cement ledge as a bed, persons convicted of petty offenses in the same general population with the most depraved criminals. The lives and circumstances of the prisoners intrigued me. I have to admit, I felt a level of respect for anyone able to survive in the inhumane situation.

I was particularly drawn to the history of a young woman inmate convicted of killing her father and incarcerated in the prison in 1908. Annie was sentenced when she was only fourteen years of age. The museum had some of her letters on display enabling me to learn more about Annie. Her voice spoke to me across the lines of time.

After returning home, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feelings I’d experienced. The sadness and hopelessness clung to me like a shroud. Deciding to immerse myself in the darkness rather than try to avoid it, I did some more research on Annie.

Annie’s letters give no indication that she was remorseful. She writes, “….a feeling or a wish came over me to kill someone and this feeling, I could not resist.” She was housed in the facility approximately a year then transferred to Colorado where she finished out most of her four year sentence before receiving a pardon. Annie’s life before and after the murder and incarceration, by all accounts I’ve found, was unremarkable. She went on to marry and have children and live a normal, quiet life until her death in 1975.

The story I’m writing is fiction so it’s inspired by Annie rather than based on her. All manner of horrific events will happen to my character, Anna, before the murder, during her stay in the prison, and after her release. I have to let go of all the emotion that overwhelmed me that day at the prison. My way of accomplishing that is to write about it. Feel the feelings and move past them as I let the characters I write experience the emotion for me.

Unlock the locks, throw open the doors, uncage the dark demons of your mind. Give them a voice through your pen and let them tell their stories. Maybe they’ll connect with the darkness in the readers and you’ll have a best-seller!

 

To learn more about the museum and Annie, follow the links below:


tonyasquareimgTonya L. De Marco is a Costume Designer, Cosplayer, published Model, and published Author. She splits her time between the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

You can visit Tonya on her Amazon Author Page, her Instagram page, her Facebook page, or on her website, TonyaLDeMarco.com.